Nor any drop to drink.”
Flint is a straight shot up I-75 to the shores of Lake Huron. In little over 45-minutes, you can be fishing on the Saginaw Bay, a portal into Lake Huron, the source of Flint’s fresh drinking water.
With so much fresh water around them, why did the residents of Flint in 2014 find themselves drinking poisonous water? Clark’s definitive book on the crisis helps us understand the complicated web that led to the poisoning. It goes over the astonishing discovery of lead in the water, the cover-up by government officials and the inspirational actions of community activists demanding fresh drinking water and environmental justice.
Clark, in an interview from her Detroit home, told City Pulse she is still coming to grips with the intense experience of writing “The Poisoned City.”
“I’m not over the shock of it,” she said, referring to her two-year quest to shine light on one of most frightening environmental disasters of our time.
“I wish I had a great coping strategy, but talking about it helps — it’s cathartic in a way,” Clark said. Clark also knows that her pain will gradually diminish, but for the residents of Flint, and more than 27,000 of their children, the effects of lead poisoning will last a lifetime.
Clark, in her 300 page book — including 67 pages of carefully documented footnotes — attempts to make sense of the decisions that went into switching Flint from its Detroit water source to a new line.
The crisis got its start when Governor Rick Snyder named an emergency manager to oversee the financially beleaguered city. The idea was to cut costs.
There’s no question that Flint’s water was outrageously expensive, due to distance from the source and the legacy of serving a community population that was one-half of what it once was.
In spring 2014, Flint switched from one provider to another with one minor glitch: the city would need to use water from the Flint River for a short time until the infrastructure for the new line was in place.
It was considered an easy solution, but that’s where everything went terribly wrong. Water treatment is exceedingly sophisticated, as Clark points out in her book, but it is well known that aging cities have lead service pipes going into homes. In order to prevent corrosion, and thus the leaching of lead into service lines, a noncorrosive chemical must be introduced. Despite affirmations by state government officials, it was later proved that the water was not treated with corrosion control.
In April 2014, Flint residents discovered their water was coming out of their faucets with a deep brown hue. When community activists like LeeAnne Walters began to complain, they were dismissed, often rudely, by government officials — including Lansing’s Jerry Ambrose, who became a Flint emergency manager in 2014.
Not to be deterred, Walters went directly to the Environmental Protection Agency and found a sympathetic ear in Miguel Del Toral. Del Toral set everything into motion by writing a memo to his bosses and to several Michigan government administrators who were responsible for overseeing water quality. He was stonewalled by entrenched bureaucrats, but two things were happening simultaneously that would change the attitudes on the ground.
First, Virginia Tech professor, environmental activist and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Marc Edwards entered the fray. He had previous experience with lead poisoning in Washington D.C. in 2004, which enabled him to introduce scientific rigor and testing into the Flint situation.
Next, Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint pediatrician, pulled together testing results for lead from Flint children. On Sept. 24, 2015, she delivered a news conference that acted as a knockout punch to federal and state officials with the crucial evidence that the children of Flint had been poisoned by lead.
Although 18 months too late, the state and federal government stepped up and sent bottled water, faucet filters and National Guard troops to Flint. Gov. Snyder used his 2016 State of the State address to exclusively discuss the Flint Water Crisis and apologize to Flint residents.
But as Clark points out in her book, the trials and tribulations are far from over for Flint.
The dozen or so state and local officials linked to the crisis have been charged with crimes like involuntary manslaughter.
“We should all be enraged,” she said. And the bottom line is Flint residents still aren’t using the water to drink, cook or bathe.
Meanwhile, Clark, a recent Knight- Wallace journalism fellow at the University of Michigan, will be watching the classic cinematic lesson in water utility corruption, “Chinatown.”
“There are a lot of similarities,” she said.